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'Top Chef Masters': Is season 2 hot or not?

April 7, 2010 | 11:00 pm
Susanfeniger Season 2 of Top Chef Masters kicked off its first episode last night, hoping to garner as much success as they did in round one.

This time, Bravo has brought back a few past contenders (Wylie Dufrense, Ludo Lefebvre, Mark Peel, Jonathan Waxman and the like) to compete, perhaps hoping to remedy complaints that the first season's format didn't allow for connection to competitors. (During the first four weeks, only two of the six continue from each episode, and they're not revisited until much later in the season) . The next few weeks will prove if that's enough to make the audience's affinity with the characters, and the show, grow.

This week's group were all first timers, including two Angeleno chefs, Susan Feniger (Street, Ciudad, Border Grill) and Govind Armstrong (8 oz. Burger Bar, who had judged on Season 1 but not competed). They joined the likes of Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, one of President Obama's favorite Italian restaurants in Chicago), Ana Sortun (Sofra Bakery & Café,Cambridge) , Jerry Traunfield (Poppy, Seattle), and Jimmy Bradley (The Red Cat and The Harrison, NYC) for their first quick-fire challenge in L.A.'s Chinatown. 

The bunch was divided into teams of two and carted down Broadway, but instead of being dropped off at a commercial kitchen they landed at a gas station, where they were tasked with making gourmet "gas station creations".

They clamored for everything from Slim Jims to Clamato, hoping to find the ingredients to wow the Bravery, who served as guest judges for the quickfire. The chefs were a bit catty and defensive while watching the guys critique their food, questioning their palates and experience. But hey, in order to be a good critic you have to have a solid set of benchmarks, and the guys are surely familiar with road stoves and pre-fab food eaten while on tour.

For the elimination challenge, the teams had to cook for 30 people on their first dates. Each team had to present two dishes per plate, representing their own personal style. (This time they were allowed into a legitimate market.)

Aside from the first-time lovebirds, here's what sizzled, and what fizzled on the premier episode, after the jump.

K14qklnc HOT: Anna and Jerry's duck duo. These two really got creative with the romance challenge, utilizing floral orange blossoms in one rendition of duck and lavender in another. What was truly impressive, though, is that the lavender didn't taste like swallowing a bubble bath, which is no minor feat when using the flower.

NOT: Armstrong and Bradley may have used Flamin' Hot Cheetos to make their mac and cheese, but the spiciness was the only thing that was hot about it. The toxic-looking dish looked like it could have been the cover of the Bravery's latest album "Stir the Blood".

HOT: Kelly Choi's emerald green dress and giant white Billie Holiday flower hair pin. Props to whoever is handling her wardrobe.

NOT: The aesthetics of Feniger and Mantuano's bread pudding. Anyone who's eaten at Street can agree that presentation isn't Feniger's forte, but the woman does know how to layer flavors like a champ.

HOT: Armstrong's confession of his crush on Feniger when he worked for her at Cuidad while in high school. Gotta love tidbits of hot gossip on local chefs!

NOT: Choi's waif-like stature and over-use of the word "masterful". Sure it's TV, but it's hard to watch someone that thin host a show about food.

HOT: Tony Mantuano and  Susan Feniger moving on to the winner's circle. If they can make  Wonder bread into something delicious, awards are definitely in order.

NOT: Armstrong being edited as being more of a hothead than heartthrob. The guy's a total sweetheart in reality (life, not TV, that is).

What do you think of the first episode? Will you keep watching? And do you think bringing back previous contestants will help the show?

--Krista Simmons

Photos: Susan Feniger by Jay L. Clendenin  Los Angeles Times; Govind Armstrong by Simon Hare.

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